Lifestyle & Parenting

Have You Heard About … Momfluenced: Inside the Maddening, Picture-Perfect World Of Mommy Influencer Culture

June 12, 2024

Mahsa Di Placito is host of one of our favourite pop-culture podcasts, Have You Heard About…, and we’ve signed her on to write a column for Vita Daily! In her column, she’ll break down notable moments in culture and why they matter. For more detailed analyses about all things pop culture, catch up on the podcast here and follow along on Instagram. Listen to the full interview with Momfluenced author Sara Petersen on the podcast.

I recently read Sara Petersen’s ‘Momfluenced: Inside the Maddening Picture-Perfect World of Mommy Influencer Culture,’ and couldn’t put it down. As a writer with a deep curiousity exploring the intersection of domesticity, motherhood and feminism, much of Sara’s work examines the cult of momfluence. That is, influencers who specialize in performing motherhood for the social media masses. I was initially drawn to her book because I found myself increasingly exasperated over those perfectly curated instagram grids, neutral palettes, and affiliate links to products that may not make motherhood any easier, but hold the allure of at least making it more beautiful. Her book helped me to examine my own complicated parasocial relationship to momfluencers, and reassess the perceived value we get out of it; what we win, and what we lose. Was thrilled to sit down with Sara to dig deeper:

Hi Sara! Can you tell us what drew you to be interested in momfluencing?

I first started thinking about feminism in a visceral way after having my first kid. I had studied feminism and taken women’s studies classes in college and grad school, but I don’t think I ever felt the blood and guts of it until having a kid myself. I felt like I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it all sort of felt like a scam, but I just walked around feeling like the system of institutional motherhood just doesn’t feel right. I had a lot of rage over this, and feelings to sort through. I also experienced postpartum depression, which I think was both chemical and also a reaction to sort of the mythology of motherhood I had consumed throughout my life leading up to motherhood, and comparing that.

So many people write the influencing/momfluencing space off as frivolous, without understanding the deeper cultural implications and the fact that it’s big business! Why does it matter that we view momfluencing more critically?

I think it’s no surprise that the most financially lucrative accounts with huge followings really adhere to whiteness and traditional gender norms, domesticity and femininity. In many cases, they are super similar to renditions of motherhood taken from the late nineteenth century. Both in the market sphere and in the domestic sphere, because it’s really been codified for us not by other mothers, but by people who want to sell us stuff. Often, by white men in power who want to maintain and uphold their power, and by people who want to very clearly delineate who deserves protection and support, and who does not. The nature of Instagram as it pertains to momluencer culture is really intrinsically tied to the imagistic nature of motherhood in general.

At its worst, what does momfluencing look like? At its best, what does it look like?

Oh that’s such a good question! At its worst, I would say it’s women capitalizing on our desire to consume good moral maternal narratives. Basically, weaponizing the presumed morality of white motherhood. So they really fashion themselves as just a mama to however many ‘littles,’ often portraying a selfless, nursing and gentle image. She only wants what is ‘best’ for her children (big scare quotes on what they deem as being threatening vs. what is best).  She often has a beautiful grid, lots of nature, florals and pastels, so we go into it with our guard down. We’re being almost conditioned to view this as innocuous content, and it’s really easy for these types of momfluencers to, for example, tag an organic mattress brand in one post, and then write a really cryptic vague post about ‘doing research’ and ‘just asking questions’ in the next post. This can really lead to some dark places along the Q Anon conspiracy space, white supremacist messaging, and blatant disinformation.

At its best, I think it looks like any mother who doesn’t fit into the ‘Good Mom’ box and challenges the status quo. Any mother who’s marginalized in any way is going to have an important viewpoint, and is going to change the narrative and challenge what we’ve been conditioned to view ideal motherhood as looking like. We would gain so much listening to perspectives outside the very popular white, privileged lens of motherhood. For example, a mother of colour will likely be less preoccupied with feeling bad about not using cloth diapers, because she has to have discussions with her 4 year old son about police violence and brutality. So I really think the best accounts provide much needed perspective, which narrows the more privileged you are.

What is it about the voyeuristic nature of watching this perfect depiction of domestic life that is so captivating for us?

In many cases, we’ve been conditioned to seek out meaning along the stories many of us have been told growing up about motherhood, family, marriage, and domesticity. So I think our brains are just hardwired to view these narratives as the ‘right narratives.’ When we then view stories and images we’re familiar with, there’s a certain – ‘okay, all is right with the world’ mentality. My existential dread about the climate crisis, political agendas, and horrific atrocities in the world can be put somewhere else, while I watch someone make tiny cheerios from scratch for their children. In many ways, it’s a coping mechanism to the horrors of modern life.

There are so many different types of momfluencers you talk about in your book. The boss babes, the wellness mamas, the toxic positivity mamas, minimalist mamas, and of course ‘trad’ [traditional] wives, which have gained so much traction in recent years. Can you tell us what a trad wife is, and how they can really be trad when they are earning an income, sometimes even as the breadwinner?

Totally – the simplest definition is just somebody who adheres to traditional gender norms. So ‘trad,’ short for traditional. She might be a stay at home mom of 3 driving a minivan and prioritizing making her husband a sandwich when he gets home, or she might be a Fundamentalist Christian, believing the man is the leader of the household and he makes all major decisions. They might preach about never withholding sex, and all sorts of obedience submission is part of their mission statement. Aesthetically, they may look like your typical suburban housewives, or like they’ve been plucked from a nineteenth century painting decked out in gingham or calico.

So, how they can really be trad wives when they’re making money (sometimes, lots of it!), is really the central oxymoron, since their belief is that it’s the woman’s job to be rooted in the domestic sphere and not worry about money. How does she then justify going on Instagram and getting involved with sponsorship deals and affiliate links? Part of the way they get around this is by saying that God has placed them here to do this so they can teach other women to be Godly, and reject feminism for femininity. In this way, they position it as part of a larger mission. Another loophole is in the journaling and storytelling as part of their faith. They’re raised to journal and scrapbook and to record events for posterity. Mormon women are also taught to maintain their bodies as a reflection of Christ, and maintain their homes as a reflection of their devotion to Christ. From a very early age they’re taught to share their lives, lead by example, and keep themselves and their homes immaculate. So, it’s kind of the perfect marriage of those things on Instagram. Additionally, it’s a way of proselytizing their faith. Maybe the average agnostic is scrolling through accounts and thinking to herself, I should look into Mormonism because it looks pretty great.

Why do you think Trad Wives are having such a moment on social media right now?

Yeah, motherhood is disenfranchised in so many ways. Just think about going to a dinner party, and your work is rooted in caring for your home and kids. If you’re asked what you do for a living and you say you’re a stay at home mom, that is often met with a sort of immediate dismissal. There’s no cultural cache; you’re rarely going to get a follow-up question, and that’s really harmful. It has so much to do with Capitalism, and the fact we’re taught to place greater value and respect on professions that traditionally make the most money.

If you’re a stay at home mother looking for validation, craving a creative outlet, or to be seen as somebody with expertise, the white nationalists are going to offer you the illusion of perceived power, but it ends with a door slammed in your face. Your access to power depends on you buying into a narrative of subservience and inferiority, so it’s not a great trade.

Reading your book made me realize that somewhere along the way, we were led to believe that part of being a good mother was having the ‘good mother aesthetic’ as told to us by your stereotypical momfluencer (often a wealthy caucasian cis woman with access).  An always clean kitchen; ideally with the farmhouse sink and white shaker cabinets. Neutral and calm colour palettes, fresh flowers in the perfect milk glass vase. That if we just clicked their affiliate link for bath salts or wicker toy baskets, that would be a form of self care for us. What is the underlying problem with this?

I think motherhood has always been heavily aesthetic, far more so than fatherhood. If somebody were to ask you to imagine a good father, you might picture a guy throwing a baseball in the backyard. But it’s not as detailed or as powerful of an image as asking you to picture motherhood. We tend to confuse good motherhood with good consumerism, and that is no accident throughout history. Marketers have deliberately encouraged mothers to view their ability to shop well as being both patriotic and a good citizen, while being a good mother raising the generation of next good citizens.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves what we’re trying to get out of this one sided interaction as consumers. Are we trying to learn something specific about motherhood, like snack ideas for a child with a sensory processing disorder? In which case, that’s a really practical application of momfluencer culture. Perhaps we’ve experienced pregnancy loss, and are looking for validation and community – again, really specific. Or maybe we’re just looking for home decor inspiration or popcorn entertainment where we can just turn off our brains and relax, this is all completely valid and fine.  But at the end of the day, if the content isn’t providing the relaxation or info-centric content we’re seeking, and we’re going to it as a hate-follow or leaving it feeling worse off, I think we need to do a vibe check with ourselves.

Speaking of hate-follows, I’ve noticed many followers are becoming increasingly agitated with the economy of momfluencing. The more lucrative a momfluencer seems to be, or the more products they sell through affiliate links, the more backlash they seem to get. Essentially, we’re saying, ‘hey- we enjoy your work, we just don’t feel good paying you for it.’ Can you break this down for us?

Yes- people get hot and bothered about the money aspect of it. It helps to think of it as just supporting a mothers business rather than them getting paid for the unpaid labour of motherhood, because that’s not really what’s happening. They’re getting paid for their aesthetic eye, ability to create a cohesive brand, and marketing/business/editing skills. A lot of that backlash seems to be internalized misogyny, where if we stopped thinking about them as being paid for motherhood and instead viewed them as being paid for essentially advertising and marketing, we might be able to feel less conflicted about it.

For more with Sara, listen to the full podcast interview on Have You Heard About… here, follow her Substack, In Pursuit of Clean Countertops, and definitely pick up a copy of her compelling book, Momfluenced: Inside the Maddening Picture-Perfect World of Mommy Influencer Culture.


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